INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
You’ve started generating material. You’ve defined the boundaries, genre and format of your writing project. Now get ready for hurdle #3: Making a lot of words flow.
I’ve seen many writers define their project clearly and even get as far as a detailed outline that is completely ready to draft and then… they hit a wall.
Why aren’t the words coming out?
Reason #1: It’s not the right project. It’s completely possible that with every rational reason to write the project you’re trying to write, it’s just isn’t the right project for you right now. (Or maybe ever.)
Try working on a second project. Or even a third. Generate some raw material on those and see if that’s flowing any better. Put all the projects up on an ‘action board’ (dry erase or cork, but make it big) and see which one generates more ideas and excitement for you.
If you do decide to jump to a different project, see if you also get stuck at hurdle #3. If so, I’m afraid you can’t blame the project.
Reason #2: Fear of Failure aka What you write isn’t good enough. Of course it’s not good enough! Especially if you’re coming to writing later in life, your taste is more highly developed than your writing ability so you’re bound to be disappointed. The test of being a writer is to see if you believe so strongly in the whole project that you can live with pieces that aren’t good enough – at least for a little while. Because you are going to go back and rewrite it, at least so it doesn’t make you gag, before you show it to anyone who will judge it.
Solution #1: If you have an outline, don’t re-read what you’ve written. Trust your strategic/conceptual self and just keep going.
Solution #2: Visualize the finished product clearly, and keep writing towards that.
Solution #3: Remember that every single writer has written crappy first drafts. So what?
Solution #4: Get feedback from someone who loves your work (or whom you’re paying) and will encourage you to keep going.
Reason #3: You don’t have a system. Writing is like anything else; it requires that you develop methods and muscles.
Solution #1: Set up a good work area. I can’t tell you what your area will look like because everyone is different. Most people need a room with a door that closes, but some people like to write at Starbucks. Some people need order and others like clutter. I can tell you that if you’ve spent more than a week getting your work area ‘perfect’ you’re just procrastinating and that isn’t the problem.
Solution #2: Give yourself a meaningful deadline. I’ve written about deadlines before – and will do it again – because almost no one can do the work without a real meaningful deadline. A meaningful deadline means a specific date (preferably no longer than a week from now) with rewards or consequences. That means a date with a writing buddy or writing coach who is expecting to see some words (and will get annoyed – or paid anyway – if you don’t do the work), a workshop or writing group where you have to present some work, or some treat that you won’t get if you can’t hand in your assignment. It doesn’t matter if you wait until the last second before you make some pages. You’re still making the pages.
Solution #3: Try writing a different way. A lot of people get trapped by a specific idea of what writing looks like. If you can’t be productive in your computer, try writing long hand. If a notebook isn’t doing the job, what about writing out loud? I’m going to do a whole blog about this because it’s been an amazingly simple and productive revelation for a lot of writers who are struggling creatively when I suggest that they just tell me the story out loud on the phone, record it and transcribe it. Sometimes I have to ask some questions to get things rolling, but before you know it words are coming out.
This can be an incredibly short and painless route to a rough draft. You can use a simple cassette tape recorder, or mp3 recorder, or whatever means are at hand. Then hand (or send) the recording to a transcriber. Or do it yourself. Or get a transcription program for your computer and talk into that.
If none of these reasons/solutions work, you may simply not have defined your project clearly enough and you should revisit hurdle #2.
If you are writing now you shouldn’t hit another hurdle for a while. Enjoy cruising along, feeling like you’re in the swing of it, getting over the hump of the project, watching the words flow and the pages accumulate.
Then, just when you think it’s smooth sailing to the finish line… It’s Hurdle #4.